LITTLE Oakley's talented academy players are making strides already, despite only being together a few weeks.

That's the view of experienced coach Mark Sharp, who is heading up the new Acorns project.

Oakley's academy is being run in conjunction with AFC Sudbury and offers youngsters the chance to combine football with education, as they work towards a BTEC National Extended Diploma in Sport.

It launched last month, with the boys getting used to their new environment by coming in one day a week, before starting in earnest in early September.

Fourteen boys earned places, all aged between 16 and 18.

"We've got off to a great start and I feel very positive," said Sharp.

"I'm really enjoying it so far.

"I've coached and managed senior sides and worked in academies but never done anything like this before.

"It's completely different and very rewarding, because we're seeing improvement already.

"The boys' attitudes are so good.

"They're very switched on, both in terms of their education and football.

"They're gelling and working together as a group, helping each other, and that's great to see because the social aspect is another important part of what we're about.

"I want them to be successful in terms of their football but another big dream is to see them finish our course and want to go further with their education, perhaps off to university.

"That would be fantastic."

The academy players are together four days a week, studying in the morning and then playing and training in the afternoon.

It is a two-year course, part of which includes working towards a level one coaching badge.

The boys play in the under-18 Thurlow Nunn Youth League on a Thursday night, while, so far, at least six boys have played in each of Oakley's A team fixtures, in division one of the Essex and Suffolk Border League

"The pathway is there and these boys are the future of the club," added Sharp.

"It fits in with (first-team manager) Matty Carmichael's remit, building a young, hungry squad.

"We've also got a young reserve side and I believe it's a healthy way of doing things.

"From a club point of view, it's sustainable.

"But it also provides a stepping stone for the boys.

"It gives them a chance to learn the game and, regardless of results, it's really positive to see them pulling on the shirt and representing Oakley.

"Seven of the boys don't actually live in the Harwich area.

"They're from Clacton and Frinton, so this is a big thing for Tendring."

Sharp says the academy is "open and flexible", so high-fliers in other sports can still do other things rather than play football on a Saturday afternoon.

One member of the current intake is an up-and-coming referee while another plays high-level hockey for Colchester.

There is also scope for those interested in coaching and managing to one day work within Oakley's youth set-up. The club have 18 teams.

There will be another intake next year and girls, as well as boys, are welcome to apply.

A trial session for 2020/21 is being held on October 16, at 7pm.